The VA estimates that approximately 5000 Vets commit suicide each year and the suicide rate for Iraq Vets is 35% higher than the general population. Earlier this year, the House passed a bill introduced by Congressman Leonard Boswell and it passed with a vote of 423 to zero.
Senator Tom Harkin has introduced a bill in the Senate (Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act) that is being held up by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Why? According to Harkin "Out of the blue, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma objected to the unanimous consent request. And his principal reason for doing so is completely baseless. He speculates that if we have mandatory screening of all veterans for suicide risk, the resulting medical data might be used to deny a veteran the right to purchase handguns."
What's in the bill:
It empowers the VA to develop and carry out a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. Requires the program to include: (1) mandatory training for appropriate staff and contractors of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who interact with veterans; (2) screening for suicide risk factors veterans who receive medical care at a Department facility; (3) tracking of veterans; (4) referral of at-risk veterans for counseling and treatment; (5) designation of a suicide prevention counselor at each Department medical facility; (6) research on best practices for suicide prevention; (7) mental health care for veterans who have experienced sexual trauma while in military service; (8) 24-hour veterans' mental health care availability; (9) a toll-free hotline; (10) outreach and education for veterans and their families; and (11) peer support counseling.
Watch Sen. Harkin discuss this bill.